Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : What I Wish You Knew About Teens

As kind of a wrap up to our Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today), I took to Twitter to get your input asking, “What do you wish adults would remember about teens today?” What follows are some of your answers. If you would like to add more, please leave us a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Karen Jensen)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens (Eden Grey)

A special thank you to Heather Booth, Rebecca Denham and Eden Grey for their help in putting together and writing pieces for this great series.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : Talking Up Teens

For our final piece in our Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series, Eden Grey is talking about advocacy. Next week we’ll here from you.

Why is in-house advocacy important?

We all see advocacy at a national level, in social media blasts by ALA and YALSA, awareness campaigns by School Library Journal, fundraisers by the We Need Diverse Books group. What we don’t see as often are the ground-level, grassroots efforts to increase awareness about Teen Services and the needs of modern teens. Much like the Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, initiatives by a small number of librarians are just as important as national endeavors by organizations with million dollar budgets. The advocacy efforts of individuals in their own library systems and consortiums can have a very important impact on the awareness and support of Teen Services in libraries.

When should you actively be advocating?

Seizing the opportunity whenever it arises sounds good in theory, but isn’t so good in practice. As an advocate for Teen Services, you’ve got to choose your battles wisely. Not every department meeting and program planning session is a good time to talk up your teens and your outreach stats. Instead, here are some specific opportunities for actively talking up your service to teens:

Seize (almost) every opportunity for sharing a warm and fuzzy story. Don’t do it every day, but every few days if you see an opening to share something heartwarming one of your teens said, or a nice outcome from an outreach visit, go ahead and make it into a story. These stories should be shared most often with your supervisor and other administrative officials, but can also be shared with your other co-workers. Your boss will most likely share the stories with others, even with his or her boss, and word about your teens and how you serve them will get around.

Ask to have meetings with your supervisor that are just focused on your services to teens. Make it clear that you want to talk about how you’re doing, what your numbers are like, what’s working and what’s not, etc. Show your supervisor everything you’re doing, and why it’s important. These meetings are all about you – and the focus should stay that way if you make that clear from the outset. If you have a good supervisor, he or she will understand the purpose and meaning of these meetings. If that is not the case, take the meetings to the next level – maybe meet with a department head, branch manager, or even ask to speak to your director if you are not being heard by others. These meetings should happen at least twice a year, but don’t be afraid to ask for more frequent meetings if you feel the need to.

Techniques of In-House Advocacy

Numbers

It is so important to keep track of as many numbers as possible. Number of programs, program attendance, number of students, teachers, and librarians served at outreach, circulation of the YA collection, number of teens who use the board games in your teen area, teen volunteer hours, and the list could go on.

 Just recording the numbers isn’t enough. Put them in spreadsheets or tables and keep track of annual data.

Stories & Anecdotes

Heart-warming stories go a long way toward changing the perception of teens in libraries. If you have a good memory for stories and enjoy telling them in other aspects of your life, you’ll have no problem recording a bunch of anecdotes to tell your boss and coworkers. However, if you’re like me and are extremely awkward and hesitant when it comes to telling stories, here are some tips:

  1. Keep it short. Stick to the point or result of the story.

  2. Include names and other specific information.

  3. Jot down details of the story in your program reports or where you record your attendance or other numbers.

 For example, my regular group of teens has a couple of ringleaders that my coworkers are very familiar with. Nate and Maine are a little bit infamous at my library. However, when a new person shows up at programs, I can count on those boys to welcome them, show them the ropes, and introduce them to everyone. The new kid immediately feels welcome, and like part of the family. Whenever this happens I make sure to tell my boss about it – it shows just how caring, responsible, and kind my teens are. See also: Sharing Stories by Heather Booth.

Reports

If you don’t submit monthly reports to your supervisor, you should seriously consider asking them about it. While it may lead to your coworkers seriously resenting you, it will be worth it in the long run for everyone. Creating monthly reports of your programs and services shows just how much work you’re doing for Teen Services, and allows you to compare your work to previous months and years. Annual reports just aren’t enough when you’re dealing with the wide variety of tasks that Teen Services Librarians do.

 Turn the numbers you record into reports. Compare numbers from previous months and years. Ask how devoting time to one aspect of your job affects the results of other aspects: Has program attendance increased since you started working there? What about since you got into those new schools or classes? Has circulation gone up or down since you implemented those new programs?

 Take the answers to these questions and present them to your supervisor/s. Show them the clear-cut results of your hard work. If you submit a monthly report, include the tables of data and your conclusions. Those reports will be read by your supervisor’s boss, and most likely looked over by the library’s director as well.

 Public Relations

 Taking photos at programs and while teens are volunteering is also a great way to share a quick “anecdote,” and not only with your coworkers, but with the rest of the community as well. Recently my library’s head of PR sent out a reminder that she is always looking for stories. She keeps them in folders in her email, shares them with the library director, and uses them for community and media outreach. Sharing those stories with the media may lead to a local newspaper wanting to spotlight one of your teen programs or teen volunteers. Your library director may share stories from your outreach visits when he or she is at a committee or council meeting in the community. Having photos to go along with the stories means PR can share them on social media or the library’s website.

 Advocacy Takeaways

 Maintain a balance between talking up your teens and your own work, and just working hard. Take the right opportunities to share your work, and if those opportunities don’t arise on their own, ask for meetings with your boss.

 Don’t just record numbers every month; turn those numbers into meaningful data. Make reports tracking everything from program attendance to outreach numbers to board game and video game usage. Share those reports with your library’s administration whenever possible, and use the numbers to back up your own needs and use of time.

 Always be advocating. Seize the opportunity to talk up your teens to a grumpy coworker. Share information about your teen volunteer program to an overworked teacher or school librarian. Chat up people in the community about the library and the things you do for teens. Don’t assume that people know what you do at your job – enlighten them, whether they’re the cashier at the craft store or your weekly game night friends.

For more on advocacy, check out our various posts on advocacy under Professional Development

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Karen Jensen)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Karen Jensen)

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : A Teen Services 101 Infographic (And the Serving Full Tilt Index)

As part of the Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, we wanted to put together an infographic that would put all the information we had gathered into one place that would be easy to use and reference. This is that infographic. The sources for the information are cited below.

Sources:

YALSA Issue Paper 2011:

In their 2007 study, the Public Library Association found that only 51 percent of public libraries have a full-time young adults services librarian. Sixty-two percent of these libraries have at least one staff person whose job it is specifically to serve teens. This is an improvement over figures from 1994, which indicated that only 11 percent of public libraries had a staff person whose job it was to serve teens.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : By the Numbers

Teen Pregnancy Statistics

PEW: Teen Internet Use Statistics see also Pew Research on Teens and Libraries

Washington Post: Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Karen Jensen)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : Empathy, remembering what it’s like to be a teen and how it helps us be better teen services librarians

Image from http://imgkid.com/the-breakfast-club-quotes-brian.shtml

In the summer before I began my Junior year of high school my family moved. Again. That’s what happens when you are a military family. But even though you know it’s going to happen, it doesn’t make it suck any less. A few weeks into the new semester at a new school I received a devastating phone call. My best friend in the universe had been in a car accident. That morning my mother woke up and drove me the 3 hours to visit her in the hospital. One week later, the phone rang again early in the morning and I knew. With the shrill trilling ring of that phone I knew: my best friend had died.

A few days later I sat outside a pizza place as our friends inside laughed and joked and told stories about Teri. But I didn’t understand how they could do that, how they could eat, how they could laugh, how they weren’t dying inside. This wasn’t my first experience with death, that had come earlier when a friend of my father’s took his own life. It was just my first experience with death in a way that was so immediate and personal. I had already lost so much, moving and starting over, and now this person was gone. This person that I had made batches and batches of rice krispie treats with (it was our favorite). This person I had obsessed over Duran Duran with. This person that had shared my first concert experience with (yes, it was Duran Duran). This person that had helped me navigate my first dates, my first boyfriend, my first everything.

Years later, as a teen librarian, I would be in a room full of teens many times when they had just learned of the death of a classmate or friend. The boy who was in a car accident drag racing on a Saturday night. The girl with childhood cancer. The boy who took his own life. And as those teens sat in the room with me, crying and remembering their friend, I am always taken back to this moment, this memory of Teri. And because I could remember, I could empathize. I felt their pain so genuinely because I know visceral how this pain feels.

Image from http://www.hercampus.com/school/fairfield/8-times-breakfast-club-influenced-our-lives

The thing I have often found about the staff who complain about teens in the library is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a teen. I understand wanting to forget, being a teen sucked in epic ways. That constant struggle between wanting independence and the adults around you fighting for control. The expectations. The stress. The way the adults around you want you to be act like an adult but still treat you like a kid. Then there are friends and boyfriends and the high school hierarchy. Your body often feels like it is betraying you, causing you to rage with anger in one moment when in the next you are reduced to a puddle of insecurity and sometimes tears. The zits that pop up on your face that make you want to wear a paper bag. The anticipation of when you like a new person at school, the heartache when you learn that they don’t feel the same way. That first kiss. That moment when you realize it’s all over.

Image from http://www.hercampus.com/school/fairfield/8-times-breakfast-club-influenced-our-lives

One of my favorite staff training exercises is to invite my co-workers to try and remember what it was like when they were teens. What was your favorite song or tv show or movie, I’ll ask. What did they mean to you? What were your fears? What were your favorite moments? Biggest embarrassments? You don’t even have to ask them to share it out loud, that’s not the point. The point is to remember. And when you remember, when you put yourself back in the shoes of your teenage self, you can better understand and empathize with teenagers today.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Karen Jensen)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sharing Stories to Make the Case

I’ve been to a lot of workshops, lectures, and conferences over the years. I’ve heard perspectives from and philosophies of many different librarians and educators. I’ve learned a lot. But the points that have really stuck with me and become part of my daily practice are not based on the statistics or the research findings or the philosophies. They’re based in the stories.

This is not to say that statistics and research and philosophy isn’t there too – it’s that what draws me to the numbers and best practices is the personal connection I find in story. When we share the stories of our teens, when our monthly reports and requests for funding include not just numbers and expected outcomes but the stories of our teens, they will carry more weight.

Sharing stories is not the sole domain of librarians. Every State Of The Union, every graduation speech, every product or professional keynote and greeting card ad you’ve ever seen has likely included personal stories, because sharing stories is a strategy that works.

Five Storytelling Steps

Marketing guru Nick Reese talks about the five step formula for telling a compelling story to sell a product. These are the same five steps that we can use to advocate and justify services to teens in our libraries. His steps:

  1. Identity – Who you were when you started your journey?
  2. Turn Against the Status Quo (TASQ) – What did you want to change about your prior identity / world?
  3. Struggle – What did you struggle against as you started to create change?
  4. Insight – What unique tool or insight did you gain that made overcoming this challenge easier?
  5. Resolution – Who are you today and who do you serve?

It’s a common path in storytelling, but here’s how it might look when we use these steps to talk about teen services:

1. Identity

This is Jason. He’s been coming to the library since he was a little kid, but now he’s twelve, and lately he hasn’t been in as much. He doesn’t really know where he fits. He’s not into the craft programs or book club – he has other interests.

2. TASQ

Jason is interested in technology, and there aren’t that many other opportunities in the community for him to work on this for free with his friends in the time between getting off school and his parents getting home from work. He likes having autonomy, and he wants to do more with his time than just hang around.

3. Struggle

Since Jason isn’t permitted to have friends over when his parents aren’t home, they started meeting up at the library. You might have noticed that we’ve had more kids in our computer lab over the past several months – you can certainly hear the difference afterschool, and I know a few of you have had complaints from adult patrons who feel their space and routine are being unfairly disrupted. While getting a bunch of his friends together in the computer lab to work on their JavaScript game was a solution for Jason and his friends, it was clearly not optimal for the library, as it was creating a different set of problems for a different group of people.

4. Insight

Our teen services librarian noticed this was happening and realized an opportunity. Teens had already identified the library as a place for connection, collaboration, and technological advancement. They had determined – on their own – a good time for this work. Our librarian worked with Jason, who had emerged as a real leader, to determine the needs of the group, and was able to convince them to move into the meeting room where she could also provide them with afterschool snacks.. This was a teen program served up on a platter, but the best was yet to come.

5. Resolution

Now the casual group has grown to a regular afterschool club. The teens that come work together on coding projects, encourage one another, and enjoy the special projects and opportunities that feature into their club time once a month. Seeing an additional opportunity in these very helpful, very enthusiastic teens, our teen librarian has also set up a cross-generational tech support team wherein the teens help seniors as they navigate their new devices, be they laptops, phones, or tablets. In his own words, Jason says, “All I wanted was a way to hang out and work on this game with my friends. But this is, like way better. People know who I am here, and last week even, this lady came in with a new ipod and told me I’m a genius ’cause I got her set up on Instagram so she could see pictures of her granddaughter. It’s pretty cool.” Jason is proud of his charter membership in both groups, and we are grateful for his peer leadership, proud to support him, and eager to see what will come next.

 Why Stories

Stories humanize the numbers. Stories resonate and stay with our audience much longer than a list of numbers. Stories support numbers that aren’t as great as we might hope they could be. Stories allow us to incorporate the narrative pieces that we need when describing the Asset Building we are doing. Stories illuminate the very valid needs, experiences, and successes of diverse and minority populations that might otherwise be outshone by larger groups. Stories work to explain teen development and behavior that can be confounding to those in other parts of the library.

There is a push in library advocacy to tell the stories of libraries. I love this. But if we want teens stories shared with our communities in hopes of garnering their support and participation, it is our responsibility to make sure teen voices are heard. Encourage and support teens as they share their stories with the stakeholders in our organizations: marketing and PR staff, department heads, directors, and Trustees. Coach them and help them know that their voices are important before they speak at board meetings. And even if you have the most active and articulate teens out there, be sure that you are speaking for them where and when they cannot.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Teens Full T.I.L.T. : Diverse Teens, Diverse Needs (Eden Grey)

When talking about serving teens, we can’t neglect the need to talk about diversity because like all people groups, teens are a diverse population. We can talk in general terms about the development of teens, but at the end of the day each teen is a unique person shaped by a unique genetic combination and individual life narratives. There is lots of great discussion happening right now about diversity, which is a necessary and important conversation. It’s a big topic, much bigger than one blog post could cover. So for the purposes of today’s post we decided to talk specifically about the diverse needs of teens surrounding the issues of mental health and autism spectrum issues. This is by no means the full discussion that we want and need to be having regarding diversity, which is why we recommend that you follow important conversations like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #FSYALit (which focuses on religious diversity).

Teens Dealing with Mental Health Issues

One often underrepresented aspect of diversity is mental health. Millions of American teens have a diagnosed mental health issue, and many also remain undiagnosed and suffering. The stigma of mental illness is real and affects our youth today. While a physical disability or debilitating disease can be seen on a person’s body, mental health issues are invisible. They are inside our heads, not something that people can see and understand just by looking at us. Differences in mental health represent diversity in our teens, and they have diverse service needs. Teen Librarians can help fight that stigma, and point teens in the direction of the help that they need to get diagnosed, or get treatment.

Millions of teens have diagnosed mental health issues, and remain untreated

About 20%, or 1 in 5, adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue, while 1 in 4 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental health issue. Currently adolescents make up 14% of the U.S. population, meaning 1 in 5 of those 40 million teens has been diagnosed at some point in their life with a mental health issue. According to the CDC’s NHANE Survey, of those 8 million youth, only half have received mental health treatment within the past year. That’s 4 of the 40 million adolescents today receiving treatment for diagnosed mental health issues.

Millions of teens are at risk without mental health treatment

The risk of untreated mental health issues is serious. When issues go undiagnosed, they cannot be treated effectively, and greatly increase the risk of suicide attempts. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, leading to about 4600 deaths each year. However, far more youth unsuccessfully attempt suicide. According to the CDC’s Violence Prevention Initiative, about 157,000 youth every year receive emergency medical care for self-inflicted injuries.

As adults who work with youth we know that many of these issues go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated. The National Institute of Mental Health stresses that early detection of mental health issues is crucial to youth development and safety. The longer issues go undiagnosed, the more difficult they are to treat. The activities and behaviors enforced during adolescents formulate neural pathways that will stick around throughout a person’s life. Bad habits, from biting your nails to doing illegal drugs, are that much harder to stop as an adult if the habits are formed as a teen. Mental health issues are no different. While many mental health issues are treatable with a combination of medicine and therapy/counseling, the treatment is more effective and has long-lasting effects as an adolescent.

The library’s third space as a treatment center

While the library, its staff, and patrons are no replacement for prescribed treatment from a mental health professional, the safe and non-judgmental third space, social support group, and validation through bibliotherapy are important supplements to a teen’s mental health treatment.

The library is a place that teens choose to go to on their own, not somewhere they are forced to be. Attending teen programs and being involved in Teen Services is a choice that teens make. The unbiased, nonjudgmental setting of a public library is a safe haven for teens with issues. They are able to engage in social activities with their peers under the supervision of an understanding adult, the Teen Librarian. The Librarian can also form a bond with the teen, creating a connection through which to share information and resources, such as suicide hotlines, self-help books, non-fiction about mental disorders, and fiction that the teen will find therapeutic.

Getting this information from a supportive, cool adult (that’s you!) makes all the difference to a teenager who is constantly being told what to do, how to act, and who to be when they are at school and at home. Fostering acceptance of mental health treatment, counseling, and medication is also an important role for a Teen Librarian. Combating the stigma of receiving medication and treatment for mental health issues is an important step in getting more teens to seek treatment.

Many schools have free counseling programs for teens who may be unable to get help on their own, or who may not feel comfortable asking their family for assistance. If the teen feels like school counselors aren’t a viable option, use every resource possible to find a place for them to seek help. Free hotlines can make a world of difference, and many cities have free or low-cost counseling centers for at-risk teens.

Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Teens are often overlooked when libraries discuss services for youth on the spectrum. How do you program for such a small demographic of patrons? Shifting your usual programs to be targeted toward teens with ASD can be quick and easy. Offer movies with low volume and more lights, without the scent of popcorn or rowdiness of neurotypical teens. Have video game sessions just for special needs teens, with low volume, small screens, and little to no competitive play. Try out an online book club, where teens at the higher functioning end of the spectrum may feel more comfortable communicating and interacting with others.

Can you incorporate the special needs of teens with ASD into your regular programming? Definitely. Allow parents, guardians, or siblings attend programs with the teen. Find out what the teen’s special interests are and get them focused on that, instead of on the typical unstructured chaos of some teen programs. Encourage the other attendees to maintain personal boundaries, both physical and verbal, when teens on the spectrum are around.

What can you do as a library worker?

  • Accept the teens for who they are.

  • Remain nonjudgmental.

  • Actively maintain a positive attitude toward treatment.

  • Suggest books that the teens may find therapeutic, or as an escape.

  • Point teens in the direction of information they may be lacking.

  • Provide resources for local and national treatment centers.

Recommended Reading for Teens & Their Librarians

Non-Fiction:

Mental Health Information for Teens by Lisa Bakewell

The Autism Playbook for Teens by Irene McHenry & Carol Moog

Teen Angst? Naaah… by Ned Vizzini

Fiction:

Perfect by Natasha Friend

Teeny Little Grief Machines by Linda Oatman High

Willow by Julia Hoban

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Crazy by Amy Reed

Schizo by Nick Sheff

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

My Heart and other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Book Lists:

Bibliotherapy for Teens: An Expanded Booklist

Mental Illness

Where to go for help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1 (800) 273-8255

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

National Safe Place – Youth Runaway Safeline

http://nationalsafeplace.org/

1-800-786-2929

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Treatment Referral Service: 1-800-662-HELP

Online treatment locator: http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Mental Health.gov

http://www.mentalhealth.gov/index.html

Local Treatment Finder:

Footnotes:

1. http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_878.html

2. http://www.actforyouth.net/adolescence/demographics/#1

3. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html

4. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childmentalhealth.html

More About Autism and Teens at TLT:

More About Mental Health Issues at TLT:

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Teens Full T.I.L.T.: Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming

Early on in my career as a YA librarian I was invited to a community meeting where I learned about the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. This information became one of the guiding principles for me in youth librarianship; it informs what I do as a YA librarian along every step of the way from planning to evaluating to communicating the value of youth services. The 40 Developmental Assets are meaningful goalposts that help inform and guide what anyone who works with youth should be doing to help nurture the youth they serve. To help give a basic introduction to the 40 Developmental Assets, let’s turn to the Search Institute itself:

In 1990, Search Institute released a framework of 40 Developmental Assets, which identifies a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults. Over the following two decades, the Developmental Assets framework and approach to youth development became the most frequently cited and widely utilized in the world, creating what Stanford University’s William Damon described as a “sea change” in adolescent development.

Data collected from Search Institute surveys of more than 4 million children and youth from all backgrounds and situations has consistently demonstrated that the more Developmental Assets young people acquire, the better their chances of succeeding in school and becoming happy, healthy, and contributing members of their communities and society.

YouTube clip from inspiredtoserve

The value of the 40 Developmental Assets is that they have been tested and evaluated against a wide variety of diverse teen groups for many years. They cross cultural, social and economic boundaries and help those of us who work with teens understand the key needs of the patrons we serve irregardless of the communities in which we work. Our communities may differ, but the need for these 40 Developmental Assets remain consistent among all teens.

Here’s how the 40 Developmental Assets works. The 40 assets are divided into two main categories: External Assets, those that come from outside of the teen, and Internal Assets, those that come from within the teen. These larger categories are then further divided into subcategories where each asset is listed. For example, the External Assets are subdivided into “Support” and “other adult relationships” falls into this category. Similarly, we can look under External Assets and find the subcategory “Empowerment.”

It looks like this:

External Asset: Empowerment

  1. Community Values Youth
    Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth. (The Search Institute)

The Building YOUth page at Bernard Communities has the 40 Developmental Assets organized and presented in a very concise presentation. You can also see the complete list at The Search Institute.

The more of the assets a teen has, the less like they are to engage in risky behavior like drug and alcohol abuse and the more likely they are to engage in thriving behaviors. When teens have more than 10 of the assets there is a decrease in risky behaviors and the more assets a teen has the better choices they seem to make. The goal is to help teens develop as many of the 40 Developmental Assets as possible.

The 40 Developmental Assets are a key part of library services to teens because they inform so many aspects of teen services:

1. Understanding Teen Development

Knowing and understanding them helps us better understand our teens, how they develop and what they need to develop in healthy ways. When combined with our knowledge of basic adolescent development and recent science about the teen brain, we have a better picture of who teens are and what they need to succeed.

2.Planning with End Goals in Mind

They provide a good framework for building teen programming. Knowing that teens need these assets to be successful adults guides my library programs and services with these assets in mind. They become part of the goals in my library planning and decision making.

3.Evaluating Teen Services

They provide a good framework for evaluating programs. When helping teens develop these assets is one of the end goals library programs and services, they can be evaluated to determine whether or not they are helping teens gain the greatest number of assets.

4.Communicating with the Public

They provide a good rationale for the value of teen programming to library administrators, co-workers and the community at large. Letting the community know what the library is doing to help teens gain assets provides talking points to demonstrate that programs and services for teens are essential in my community.

Using the 40 Developmental Assets for Program Planning, Evaluation and Communicating with the Public

Use a Rainbow Loom program as an example. It may be easy for staff to look in at a Rainbow Loom program and think the library is wasting money and staff resources while a teen services librarian sits there making Rainbow Loom bracelets with a group of 20 teens, but deeper examination shows a wide variety of constructive developments. Teens are using cognitive skills, such as sequencing, planning, creative thinking, interpreting instructions and problem solving. Teens are engaged in a meaningful social activity while developing these cognitive skills. But more than that, teens are also engaged in building some of the following assets:

Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults. (External Asset: Support: Other Adult Relationships)

Young person experiences caring neighbors.(External Asset: Support: Caring Neighborhood)

Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood. (External Asset: Empowerment: Safety)

Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth. (External Asset: Empowerment: Community Values Youth)

Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior. (External Asset: Boundaries and Expectations: Adult Role Models)

Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts. (External Asset: Constructive Use of Time: Creative Activities)

Listing each developmental asset as a programming goal helps determine the effective of the program in helping both teens the the community.

In evaluating the program, I determine whether or not the teens in attendance had the opportunity to meet those gals as predicated. Again, the more assets gain the more effective the program. Looking at the 40 Developmental Assets is an important part of the evaluation process. I discuss my thoughts on program evaluation in more detail here. The 40 Developmental Assets are just one of the tools I use to discern whether programs are effective and meaningful for teens.

I then use this information to communicate to my library administrators, co-workers, and the community at large the value of teen programming at the library. It helps to know that by attending a Rainbow Loom program at the library teens engage in meaningful social activities that meet a wide variety of social, emotional and intellectual goals while having an opportunity to strengthen six developmental assets. It may not look like much to an outside observer, but important things are happening behind those Rainbow Looms. More than numbers on a page, the 40 Developmental Assets help us understand what our teens need to be successful, they help us evaluate our work, and they help us communicate our value and success to those who need to understand what we are doing and why.

Some of the key findings from asset based programming includes the fact that:

1. Asset building is relational

Have a dedicated team of trained, knowledgeable and invested library staff working with teens can help cultivate meaningful adult relationships that provide a solid foundation for asset building. Many of the assets revolve around the fact that teens need to know that their communities care about them and that non-parental adults serve as role-models and engage in meaningful relationships with them. Having the proper staffing in place to work with youth in our community is essential. The right staff will care about youth, understand youth, and be committed to working with youth. Having the wrong staff, having untrained staff or having inconsistent staffing can be just as detrimental as having no staff.

2. Asset building cultivates youth involvement

Whether utilizing focus groups or Teen Advisory Groups (TAG), asset building affirms the youth involvement that YALSA has championed. Giving teens a voice in library services isn’t just about getting good information and raising your numbers, it’s about creating library environments that nurture the 40 Developmental Assets in teens. Teen involvement doesn’t have to be a formal affair that involves meetings and evaluation forms, it can also come in providing teen volunteer opportunities or in those more informal moments that happen as you engage with teen patrons and develop those relationships as well.

3. Asset building promotes holistic development

The 40 Developmental Assets reach across a wide variety of needs and development areas to create a cohesive toolkit that nurtures holistic youth development.  They incorporate physical well being and educational pursuits into a rubric that allows us to look at and support the whole teen.

The best part about the 40 Developmental Assets is that just by having well built, diverse YA collection libraries are meeting one of my favorite assets:

Internal Assets: Commitment to Learning: Reading for Pleasure | Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.

But just having collections isn’t enough, which is why YA services should include knowledgeable and passionate staff who are dedicated to providing well built collections, meaningful services, and a variety of programs. The more assets we can encourage in our teens the better it is for us all.

Additional Reading and Sources:

Building Developmental Assets: A Foundation for Youth Development

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Teen Brain Science 101

Our series continues with a brief look at the teen brain. Why? Well, first of all, it’s just really fascinating stuff. But those of us who serve teens need to understand where our patrons are if we are to structure environments, programs, and services that are appropriate to their developmental phase. Additionally, gaining a greater understanding of what is going on physiologically will help us advocate for teens by placing their behavior within the correct developmental context, and by knowing what to do about it.

We’ve known for years that teens’ brains aren’t done maturing until their early twenties, but just what that means, and what is going on as this maturation is happening, is becoming clearer thanks to the newer Functional MRIs (FMRI) technology. These discoveries are fascinating, and go a long way toward explaining the behavior, idiosyncrasies, and habits of the teen years.  Turns out, some of the seemingly illogical, frustrating, dangerous, and otherwise difficult behavior that we see from teens has a neurological basis.

Like a car with a hair-trigger accelerator and soft brakes

Laurence Steinberg, in his 2014 book Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, uses the above phase to describe the interplay of different brain structures in the actions of teens. Like driving a car with a touchy gas pedal and bad brakes, teens are quick to act – sometimes in risky endeavors – but it takes a lot longer to regulate their behavior and slow down. We see this happen all the time, and now there is a neurological explanation for this behavior.

In the above analogy, think of the limbic system as the accelerator, and the prefrontal cortex as the brakes. The limbic system is made up of a group of brain systems closely connected with strong emotions. Fear, love, sexual excitement, anger – all of this happens in the limbic system. As you might guess, the limbic system in teen brains is highly active, and much more sensitive than that of an adult. In the teen years, the thrill seeking behavior we often see can be explained, in part, by this brain structure. Doing thrilling, dangerous, exciting things gives the limbic system the extra jolt that it is seeking.

What’s more, recent studies have shown that that jolt is even bigger for teens who are observed in these thrill seeking behaviors by their peers. So when teens act differently, brasher, louder, more daring when they’re with their friends than they do one-on-one, it’s not just that they want the social validation that they get from being exciting and brave, their brains are actually craving that encouragement and the limbic system rewards the brain when it gets it.

As all of this is happening, the prefrontal cortex, the logical brain, is in charge of moderating the behavior. It’s the brakes. But in the teen years, it’s still maturing with a long way to go. Teens understand what behavior is risky. They don’t think they’re invincible. But the part of their brains that should catch them and pull them back from dangerous behavior is not as quick as the part that’s shouting Go! Go! Go!

It’s a dangerous combination, and one that we need to be aware of and help guide teens through. That said, it’s a duality not without an evolutionary purpose.

Risk and Reward

The interplay of limbic system and prefrontal cortex incoordination explains some of the risky behavior, but not all of it, and the jolt to the limbic system seems a fairly short lived reward for all that risk. That’s because there’s more to it. The teen brain is now thought to be going through a similar level of growth to that of a young toddler. That’s immense!

Part of the task of the teenage brain is to make the most of its plasticity. It’s very malleable at this age, and that malleability is what will help teens grow into intellectually curious adults: it’s the activities and experiences during these teen years that will reinforce the neurological pathways that will remain into adulthood as others fall off through the process of synaptic pruning. Risk taking, or novelty seeking, is a way to stretch the brain – and the person – beyond the familiar, and to introduce new and thrilling activities that will serve the adult. Here, thrilling and novel could be anything from learning a new hobby or sport to exploring the world through travel, to learning a new language… or less productive and more dangerous pursuits. The point is that the brain craves newness at this age, and it has a good reason for it.

The brain in real life

All of this is well and good – it’s hardwired and there’s nothing we can do about it so why even bother trying to moderate teen behavior, right? Well, yes and no. The synaptic pruning mentioned above is happening as a result not just of old, unused pathways dying off. The pathways that are reinforced during this age are the ones that will stick around for a lifetime. This is why drug addiction that emerges during adolescence can be much more difficult to quash than those that are acquired in later years. This is also why adults (that’s you!) being involved in and guiding the lives of teens are so crucial. When we offer help, lead them toward library activities, remain steadfast as confidants, encourage them in positive pursuits, welcome them back when we see them, and generally reward the behaviors and attitudes that we hope to see more of, we are essentially tending the pathways that are going to survive the radical pruning that goes on in teen brains.

But don’t just take my word for it.

I’m a librarian by training and education, not a neurologist or psychologist. So let this brief overview pique your interest, but please learn about all of these amazing developments from the researchers and scientists who know far far more about this topic than I do. My resources for this article:

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

National Geographic: Teenage Brains

Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain

Laurence Steinberg, PhD Research articles and his excellent interview on Here & Now

Next week, the 40 Developmental Assets . . .

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen by Rebecca Denham

Teenhood is a confusing time for teens and the adults in their lives.  Adolescents who never before questioned authority are suddenly abusing sarcasm, questioning every authority figure in sight and dependent on their friends rather than parental figures for emotional support.  There are biological changes impacting teens physiologically and social development factors that influence the chaotic cocktail of teen emotions.  Let’s face it, teenhood is hard. So today as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series we’re going to be discussing basic teen development.

They Travel in Packs

It can be overwhelming for a group of teens to descend on a library, but this herd-like behavior is perfectly natural from a developmental standpoint.  Teens, especially younger adolescents, use social groups to define themselves, their values and their behavior.  This desire to be part of a group may seem at odds with the inherent adolescent desire for independence, but it is actually quite reasonable when viewed from the teen perspective.  Teens use their relationships to explore the world outside their family unit and to identify both similarities and differences between themselves and their parents.  The teenage years are when adolescents try on a variety of roles in the exploration of identity.

Children learn a great deal by role play, also known as pretending or imaginary play.  Extrapolate the importance of pretending to adolescence.  Adolescence is all about becoming an individual which means that a teen needs to be something more than just their parents’ child; more than who they have been so far.  However, teens also know that they are not quite ready for adulthood and therefore use their social groups to explore different roles they may take as adults.  It is through relationships with their peers that teens test and ultimately finalize their morals and values.

While the desire to be part of a group is critical for young teens, many older teens replace their social group of early adolescence with more intimate friendships or romantic relationships.  I’ve noticed that, in general, the older the teen is the more likely they are to travel in pairs than packs.  However, some studies have shown that teens from minority groups face greater pressure to rely on peer groups throughout adolescence for a sense of belonging.  One of the great balancing acts of library services for teens is to make sure that both groups of teens and individual teens are welcome in the library.  Successful library services for teens serve individuals as well as social groups by offering a variety of programs, services and materials.  YALSA, YART, and many blogs run by youth services librarians have literally hundreds of ideas, guidelines and tools for serving teens in libraries.

Teens, Romance and Drama

Adolescent romance is often viewed with benign indulgence or dismissal by the adults in a teenager’s life but these relationships hold an amazing amount of influence over teenagers’ mental and emotional health as well as their adolescent development.  Romantic relationships, positive or negative, account for some of the strongest emotions teens experience during the adolescent years.  Romantic relationships of the teenage years also lay the foundation for adult romantic relationships.  The nature of romantic relationships in adolescents is heavily influenced by culture, gender, and the individual but, generally speaking, romantic relationships for younger adolescents are characterized by higher stress and lower emotional support than those of older teens.  Similar to the prior attachment to peer group, as older teens transition to adulthood the individual’s primary attachment figure shifts from parent to romantic partner.

Romance in the teenage years serves another purpose beyond the rush of hormones, these relationships allow teens to expand and practice communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and intimacy skills that are necessary for a well-adjusted adulthood.  However, adolescent romance, as with any relationship, can have a dark side.  According to a 2007 study, 61% of teens involved in romantic relationships reported being made to feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.  A recent survey by the CDC found that 10% of high school students reported physical victimization at the hands of their romantic partner.  One study found that 29% of the young women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship said they had been pressured to have sex or to engage in sexual activity they did not want.  A 2013 study found that LGBTQ teens experience significantly high rates of all types of dating violence compared with heterosexual youth.  Some of the statistics about adolescent romance are disturbing which is why it is important that we have conversations with our teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships.  These conversations must be done in a supportive, non-judgemental way if you want your library teens to stick around.  You should also have resources available for teens so that they don’t have to talk directly to you if they don’t want to – often the questions that teens most need to ask are the ones they are embarrassed to air.

Self-Esteem is Kind of a Group Effort

Peer groups are one of the most powerful influencing factors when it comes to a teenager’s self-esteem.  The peers who are so crucial to adolescent social development and development of personal identity are also integral in influencing a teen’s self worth.  As a librarian, you cannot control how teens treat each other outside of the library but you can influence their behavior by treating every teen with compassion and respect and setting a standard of behavior for any teens in the library or attending library programs.  Make your library a No Bullying Zone, form a GSA, get to know the teens in your library and let them know that you care about their well being.

Being a teenager is complicated and difficult but if you try to see their perspective and make them feel welcome you will truly begin to understand the near-alchemical mysteries of the developing teen.

Next week, as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, Heather Booth talks with us about the teenage brain.

Footnotes:

[1] Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals by the American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/develop.aspx

[2]A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley

[3]Challenges in studying minority youth. Spencer, Margaret Beale; Dornbusch, Sanford M. Feldman, S. Shirley (Ed); Elliott, Glen R. (Ed), (1990). At the threshold: The developing adolescent. , (pp. 123-146). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press, x, 642 pp.

[4] http://www.ala.org/yalsa/

[5] http://www.txla.org/groups/yart

[6] Teen Librarian Toolbox, Lunanshee’s Lunacy, YA Books and More, The Green Bean Teen Queen – there are TONS of online resources for Youth Services Librarians

[7] Larson RW, et al. (1999). The emotions of romantic relationships: Do they wreak havoc on adolescents? In: Furman W, Brown BB, Feiring C, editors. The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 19-49.

[8] http://www.headspace.org.au/media/326676/romanticrelationships_adolescent_romantic_relationships_why_are_they_important_headspace_evsum.pdf

[9] Furman W, Wehner EA. (1997). Adolescent romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. In: Shulman S, Collins A, editors. Romantic relationships in adolescence: New directions for child development. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; p. 21-36.

[10] http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_romantic_0707.pdf

[11] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

[12] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-1999 (2001). American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center.

[13] Dank M, Lachman P, Zweig JM, Yahner J. Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2013. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-013-9975-8.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Rebecca Denham is a Young Adult Librarian at heart who masquerades as an Assistant Branch Manager by day at a very busy library somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of Texas.  When not distracted by management duties Rebecca is reading, reviewing YA literature and coming up with fun, innovative programming with diverse teen appeal. When not writing and reviewing for her blog Rebecca volunteers her time for the following committees: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA), 2015-2016, Best Fiction for Young Adults (YALSA), 2013-2014, 2014-2015,Youth Engagement (YALSA), 2013-2014,Spirit of Texas Reading Program HS (YART), 2011-2015, Teen Book Con Planning Committee, 2011 to present, Book Reviewer for VOYA, December 2011 to present,A4YA Reviewer for SLJ, Febraury 2014 to present. You can follow her on Twitter.

Resources for Adults Working with Teens:

www.advocatesforyouth.org

www.cdc.gov

www.findyouthinfo.gov

www.glsen.org

www.loveisrespect.org

Resources for Teens

www.bornthiswayfoundation.org

www.dosomething.org

www.lovegoodbadugly.com

www.loveislouder.com

www.loveisrespect.org

www.teenshealth.org

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today): By the numbers, making the case for teen services with demographics

The idea for Serving Full T.I.L.T. began with a seemingly simple question: How do you convince library administrators, staff and your local community that we need to be serving teens? One of the answers seems obvious to me and amounts to basically why would you want to invest in children and then start ignoring them when they become teenagers? If our goal is to meet the needs of our community, that has to include teenagers. Teenagers are a part of our community, they have needs and failing to help meet those meets is detrimental to us all. And if another goal is to grow lifelong learners and library users/supporters then we would be harming ourselves as well as our communities to neglect the unique needs of teenagers. But many administrators and staff want more information, often in the forms of numbers and facts as opposed to philosophical underpinnings. Library budgets are tight, which translates into tight resources. So over the next few weeks (full schedule at the end of this post), we ( Heather Booth, Eden Grey, Rebecca Denham and myself) will be trying to work on building a strong case for YA library services. Today we start with a basic demographic overview of how many teens there are in the U.S., what their lives look like, and what we need to know to start truly understanding who they are and where they are coming from. This information is a good starting point, but you will also want to use your resources to build a local portrait as well.

In Understanding the Community, Pramila Aggarwal suggests looking at the following areas to help you better understand and define your local community:

  • Geographic, corporate, jurisdictional boundaries
  • Demographics, statistics, subgroups
  • History, community strengths
  • Political structure, governance
  • Economic structure, major or key employers
  • Community action organizations
  • Civic and service problem

Not all of these will apply to the idea of serving teens, though understanding local politics and other areas can certainly help you understand who they key players are in your community to rally support, to identify any potential detractors, and to find other service organizations that serve teens to create networking partnerships and share information. Today we will look at basic demographics and break that down to help us develop a portrait of who our teens are today.

How many teens are there?

Why serve teens? The answer seems simple to me, because they are a unique group with unique developmental needs and we want to meet those because we are in the business of serving the people in our communities. Corporations and marketers realized not only the sheer number but the spending influence that teens have years ago and have very successfully tapped into the teen market. Many libraries, however, have lagged behind in this knowledge and we are still arguing for libraries to create and maintain quality services to teens. But the numbers suggest that if we really want to serve our communities, we need to do better with teen services.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, there were 41,844,000 youth age 10-19 in the United States, 14% of the total U.S. population, in 2012 [1]. (Source: Act for Youth)

According to the YALSA paper on the future of library services for and with teens, “There are over 40 million adolescents, aged 12–17, living in the United States today, and they use libraries”. We can’t be in the business of ignoring 40 millions teens if we are serious about our mission to our local communities. And it’s not just about building future library users, it’s about understanding that teens today are – or can be – library users; they have real needs and we fail our communities if we fail to provide appropriate and quality services and collections to teens. Teens are not just the adults of the future, they are very real people with very real needs today, we should be in the business of meeting those needs.

You can use tools like the U.S. Census Bureau State and County Quick Facts to develop a more community specific portrait. City-Data is another resource that can help you develop a clear statistical portrait of your local service community. Don’t forget that libraries usually serve large areas and there can be a wide variety of smaller communities within those service areas. In Ohio, for example, many libraries serve large counties and what the local service area looks like can differ from branch to branch. So I think our goal should be to understand the big picture, but also all of the smaller pictures around us.

Who are teens today?

Part of the discussion permeating the Twitterverse and online universe is the need for more diversity to be represented in YA literature. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is important because we do in fact live in a diverse world. Whatever your immediate service community may or may not look like, the truth remains that the United States is an increasingly diverse nation and understanding that helps us better understand and serve our teens.

According to that same YALSA paper mentioned above, “there are currently 74.2 million children under the age of eighteen in the United States; 46% of them are children of color.” The YALSA paper goes on to state that, “today more than one-fifth of America’s children are immigrants or children of immigrants”.

Approximately 5% of teens today have some type of a disability. (Source: Unicef Children and Young People with Disabilities Fact Sheet)

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. In addition to their own mental health, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and loved ones of many of our teens.

In terms of sexuality, PFLAG New York states that “reliable estimates indicate that between 4 and 10% of the population is gay, which means in a public school system of more than one million, like New York City, there are at least 40,000 to 100,000 gay students.” And remember that gender and sexual identity goes beyond just being gay or straight to include things like transgender youth, asexuality, questioning teens and more. For more information check out Amanda MacGregor’s resources for building collections and serving LGBTQ teens. Hannah Mitchell put together this Prezi on Statistics About QUILTBAG Kids that also provides some good statistical information.

When discussing the spiritual lives of teens the Barna Group notes that, “Teenagers are consistently among the most religiously active Americans, with nearly 6 out of every 10 teens engaged in some type of group spiritual activity in a typical week.” But having a spiritual life does not automatically translate to evangelical Christian. For example, 1% of the U.S. population is Muslim, another 1% is Buddhist and around 2% are Jewish. 16% are unsure or identify as Atheist. (Source: Pew Research Statistics on Religious and Public Life Project ; Child Trends Research Brief on Spirituality and Religiosity Among Youth)

The high school dropout rate has declined over several years, but still rests somewhere around 7.4% according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In total 1.2 million students drop out, or 1 student every 26 seconds according to Do Something. The flip side of course means that over 90% of students go one to graduate from high school, though 25% fail to graduate on time.

When looking at teen pregnancy, it is interesting to note that teen birth rates are also declining. In the year 2013 there were 26.6 births for every 1,000 teen girls. (Source: Office of Adolescent Health)

When looking at drug and alcohol use, it’s interesting (though not in a good way) to note that by their senior year 50% of students report having abused a drug of some kind. You can find more teen drug and alcohol use statistics at Teen Rehab.com or at the CDC.

Nationwide violence is down, and this is also true for acts of violence committed by teens. However, homicide remains a leading cause of death among youth and assault incidences result in around 700,000 youth seeking emergency care each year. (Source: CDC Youth National and State Violence Statistics) Another source maintains that youth are likely to be both the main perpetrators and victims of violence. Dating violence is also another important statistics to note as 1.5 million high school teens report being the victim of abuse by a dating partner (Source: Love is Respect)

Find a variety of teen statistics in infographic form here

The truth is that teens, like all demographic groups, are a very diverse group. Recognizing and understanding diversity is important, communicating that diversity is even more so, especially in those smaller town communities where our co-workers may not see that diversity and understand the importance of meeting the needs of not only the perceived majority populations, but the populations that are often under represented. In other area of statistics it is interesting to note that many of the negative complaints you hear lodged against teens – for example teen pregnancy and drop out rates – have been dropping for a pretty steady period. They are still significant factors, but the perception that some have regarding teens seems to be inconsistent with the facts. As teen advocates, knowing and communicating this information is important.

What is their financial situation?

Perhaps one of the greatest factors that affect the teens we serve are the economic situations in their homes. Income can affect a wide variety of factors, from whether or not our teens have their basic needs met to what types of access they have to technology and education resources. Understanding the economics of our local communities can impact that types of services we provide. Libraries in lower income areas often find themselves challenged to meet more basic survival needs as well as education and recreation needs by providing things like summer lunch programs. Whereas higher income areas may focus more on high tech and college preparation programming. It’s not because these things aren’t important everywhere, but because different communities have different primary and immediate needs.

More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families. (Source: NCCP)

Median family income in U.S. households with children was $59,500 in 2012. This amount is low by comparison with income in 2008, but higher than in the intervening years [9].

The percentage of adolescents (age 12-17) living in families with low income increased from 36% in 2006 to roughly 41% in 2012 [10]. Nineteen percent of this age group live below the poverty line [10]. (Source: Act of Youth)

Recent reports indicate that in the year 2013 1 in 30 youth were homeless at some point.

In 2012, 31% of children lived with parent(s) who did not have steady, full-time employment [11]. In 2011, 22% of all children (under age 18) lived in families that were at times unable to provide enough food [6]. (Source: Act for Youth)

The number I hear repeated frequent from a variety of sources is that 1 out of 5 youth are living with what is called food insecurity, the idea that income is unstable and they are not sure where their next meal will come from.

Not all communities are struggling financially, but somewhere around 45% of our teens are. Understanding this number is essential to providing balanced services. Even in well off communities, that doesn’t mean that all of our patrons have access to e-readers so we can’t abandon physical books altogether. Even schools that give a laptop or tablet to each student needs to be aware of the fact that a percentage of their students go home to homes without the wireless access to use them outside of school. Understanding the economic diversity of our local service communities is essential to providing access to resources, services and more.

What do their families look like?

As I have spent time with my teens over the years I have marveled over what a family can look like. My tween is currently the only person with an intact nuclear family that she knows, though we have had our own fair share of challenges. I have worked with teens being raised in foster homes, by grandparents, with a network of half and step siblings, etc. Understanding the various ways that a family can look helps us understand the unique challenges our teens can face. Many of them split time between more than one house, which comes with its own challenges. And yes, some of them are growing up in their childhood home with an intact nuclear family. Some have no siblings while others have 3, 4, 5 or more.

The increase in the number of only children you think you see is not in your imagination.  The rate of onlies has doubled.  20% of children are now being raised as only children.

Further digging revealed that the US Census government report indicates that 56% of married households have no children in the home.  Less than 10% have 3 or more children under the age of 18 in the home.  These statistics vary based on age and various other demographics. {www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf} (from a previous post on Siblings)

Recent findings indicate that 55% of 15 to 17 year olds do not live in an intact family.

Where Do Teens Live?

Remember the story about the city mouse and the country mouse? Just out of curiosity I thought I would look to see where teens today live. According to the numbers, it looks like a lot of teens live in suburbs. Though some of us are in city libraries so that number if irrelevant to us. Others of us can pull in from both rural areas and our local cities, I know this was true for me when working in Ohio where it goes from one to the other quite quickly.

In 2002, over half (54%) of adolescents age 12-17 lived in suburbs, 27% in rural areas, and 19% in central cities [7].

In 2007, about 82% of children lived in large urban or suburban areas, and nearly 9% lived in small towns (under 50,000) or more rural areas [8]. (Source: Act for Youth)

The truth is, I am sure there is a lot more information we could research to help us build those portraits of teens that we have been talking about. If you have information to add, please do so in the comments. But I think this is a good starting point. Next Wednesday, Rebecca Denham is going to discuss some basics of adolescent development that will better help us serve our teens.

Resources Consulted:

Be sure to check out all of the posts in the Serving Full T.I.L.T. Series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)